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Monday 11 December
My.Anglia > Faculties > Alss > Miners strike > Nottinghamshire

Nottinghamshire

Children of Striking Nottinghamshire Miners

Nottinghamshire was the centre of some of the most bitter, protracted and acrimonious disputes of the entire strike and of the NUM’s most damaging internal divisions. Much of the discord was caused because NUM members who responded to the national strike call were heavily outnumbered by those who voted against in a series of locally organised pithead ballots made possible by the federal nature of the union.

The voting figures for strike action in Blidworth were 399 in favour and 461 against and in Rufford 409 for and 760 against; a pattern that was repeated in each of the 31 pits that continued to produce coal throughout the strike. This created great animosity between striking miners and their working counterparts who lived in close proximity and confrontations between their children in school. Neighbours and workmates refused to talk to one another, families divided along pro and anti-strike lines, lifelong friendships were broken, and communities torn apart. The Union of Democratic Miners led by Chris Butcher (alias Silver Birch) was based in Nottinghamshire. Davy Jones, the first NUM member to die on a picket line, did so in March in unexplained circumstances near Ollerton.

This is not the place to analyse the differences, traditions and histories that separated Nottinghamshire miners from those elsewhere, nor why the strike in Nottinghamshire took the particular turn that it did. The absence of a national strike ballot for which Nottinghamshire NUM President, Ray Chadburn, and Secretary, Henry Richardson, called was perhaps the most divisive issue of the entire strike. What matters is that everyone recognised the vital strategic importance of the coalfield in determining the final outcome of the strike and that the two sides in the dispute responded accordingly.

Nottinghamshire became ring-fenced by police drafted in from forces as far away as Essex to prevent ‘presumed pickets’ from other parts of the country entering the county. Thus the residents of quiet villages including Rainworth and Blidworth became accustomed to overhead helicopters, a heavy police presence on their streets, and to house-by-house searches conducted to establish if there were any Yorkshire pickets staying in their homes or sleeping in tents or caravans in their gardens.

The drivers from Cambridge on the weekly ‘food run’ therefore had to navigate their way around roadblocks, police cordons and check points where cars were stopped, searched, and turned back. The cars were often driven by women since they attracted less attention.

Secondary school teacher Alison New recalls her lack of confidence on her first trip: ‘I had only just learned to drive and had never driven anywhere outside Cambridge but somehow it was okay and the cheques and the food always seemed to get through’.

Rufford branch banner

The drivers always took time to talk to the families and check what else could be done. For example, the ‘phone bill of the secretary of the Blidworth Action Group, Annette Holroyd and then Chris Tucker, was paid by the Cambridge group.

External support for the Nottinghamshire villages was uneven. The two communities that almost certainly received the most outside help were Blidworth and Ollerton; Blidworth, after scenes of large numbers of police in full riot gear terrifying the village on the night of May 16, received national media attention and provoked public outrage, and Ollerton after the tragic loss of Davy Jones. Striking miners in Blidworth were always trying to divert resources to nearby Rainworth. A photograph taken in Blidworth in July 1984 show not only well-wishers delivering supplies and money from Cambridge, (their most reliable source of income) but also from Camden, Hammersmith, Lambeth and Kent in the village on the same day.

Women’s support and action groups were formed throughout the country, in Blidworth, Rainworth, and in virtually every pit village in Nottinghamshire. These were co-ordinated by Notts Women Against Pit Closures chaired by Ida Hackett, a deeply loved trade union activist and veteran of many local campaigns, aged almost seventy at the time of the strike. One story told about Ida was how, when two national union officials had visited Mansfield to persuade women in the hosiery industry to accept lower rates of pay than men, she and her friends had thrown them out of the meeting and ran after them as they fled up Berry Hill.

These women's groups played a crucial role in strengthening the morale and combating the isolation of individual women. Their organisational skills ensured that all strikers and their families were clothed and fed. But women did far more than handle large sums of money, run the kitchens, and sort out day-to-day problems with gas and electricity payments, mortgage arrears and evictions for non-payment of rent. They positioned themselves at the forefront of the strike, campaigning on many issues affecting their communities such as health and education.

Never having spoken in public before, Pauline Radford, Doreen Humber, Sue Petney and Yvonne Woodhead from Blidworth, and Annette Needham from Rainworth, taught themselves to become confident and effective speakers and addressed meetings about the strike in London, all over the country and even abroad. They and other Nottinghamshire women also went to the Greenham Common peace camp, where they had a common purpose with women campaigning for electricity to be fired by coal rather than nuclear power.

What women brought to the strike was spontaneity and a disregard for hierarchy, rules and regulations that sometimes caused tensions with the NUM. In Blidworth there was an overnight occupation of the Youth Club by fifty men and women, but when they were offered the premises for women and children only the offer was turned down and they were given the village hall (‘the Glasshouse’) as a strike centre instead. A similar two-day sit-in acquired the use of the Drill Hall in Rainworth for the strikers and their families. The communal eating arrangements in both villages did much to prevent demoralization.

Some women from Cambridge and their children went regularly to the villages, cooked meals, cleaned up in the strike centre, and   generally did whatever they could to help. Alison New remembers joining the Blidworth picket line on the day when the trade union call went out for an ‘all woman picket line’. Nicky Glegg was arrested at a later picket line at Blidworth and made to pay a small fine.

At Rainworth, NUM stalwart Mick Walker, who had done two spells as branch secretary as well as a two year course at Ruskin College Oxford, was a pillar of strength throughout the strike. Everyone was devastated by Mick's untimely death from cancer soon afterwards at the age of forty. Families suffering from stress and exhaustion were invited to take holidays in Cambridge, and Su Maddock, Lore Burgess and other welcomed them into their homes.

At Christmas individually chosen, wrapped and labelled Christmas presents were distributed to the children in both villages. The Rufford pit was closed in 1993 and Blidworth in 1989. The UDM seceded from the NUM in 1985.  Disputes continue to this day about the custody of the beautiful painted Nottinghamshire banners, some of which are being restored by the Mining Heritage Team.

The Rufford banner still remains (see above) but the original Blidworth banner was destroyed during the strike. The Nottinghamshire Ex and Retired Miners Association acquired £46000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to produce their own ambitious oral history project recording the memories of former Nottinghamshire miners and the proud mining traditions of their area.


Ida Hackett Women's support commemoration Families at Blidworth enjoying a communal meal Pauline Radford of Blidworth presents Alison New with a commemorative plate. ‘Loyal to the last’: Rufford ‘Loyal to the last’: Blidworth

Images:

(i) Children of Nottinghamshire miners

(ii) Rufford Branch banner

(iii) Ida Hackett, active leader of Pit Women's Groups in Nottinghamshire during and after the strikes

(iv) Women's support commemoration

(v) Families at Blidworth enjoying a communal meal

(vi) Pauline Radford of Blidworth presents Alison New with a commemorative plate. Also in the picture: Frances Connelly, Morag Shiach and Nicky Glegg.

(vii) ‘Loyal to the last’: Rufford

(viii)  ‘Loyal to the last’: Blidworth